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Council chooses Niskanen to pinch hit as city manager

The Modesto City Council on Tuesday appointed its utility infielder to a temporary position as acting city manager after George Britton's retirement in January.

Jim Niskanen, director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department, will hold Britton's post until the council hires a permanent successor.

Niskanen joined the city in 1990 as assistant director of parks and recreation. He was promoted in 1999 to his current position.

Niskanen won plaudits from council members more recently when he stepped in to lead two other departments after directors resigned.

He oversaw the Public Works Department from July 2005 to January 2006, a period in which he identified significant expenses that did not receive the council's approval, such as the construction of an $84,000 storage building.

Niskanen, 54, also managed the Community and Economic Development Department from March 2006 to December after Brad Kilger's move to Ceres, where he is city manager. Niskanen's tenure in that department included oversight of a proposal to refocus the city's Planning Division.

"I am honored and consider it a privilege to have been selected as interim city manager," Niskanen said. "George has been a great leader for the past few years and I look forward to the opportunity to bridge the gap between him and the next city manager."

Niskanen earned $143,156 last year. The base salary for interim city manager will be $14,650 per month -- $175,800 a year.

He has a reputation for pursuing grants to keep parks work moving in years of budget cuts, and he oversaw the privatization of the city's parks maintenance crews last year.

Britton, Modesto's city manager since March 2005, announced his intent to retire in February. He held a number of top government posts in Phoenix and in Arizona's governor's office before taking a position as Modesto's deputy city manager in 2001.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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